Kathleen Jowitt with her novel, Speak Its Name

Alumna author shortlisted for award

The latest book by Exeter alumna and author, Kathleen Jowitt (English, 2006), has been shortlisted for the Society of Authors’ Betty Trask Prize – the first ever self-published book to receive this honour.

Set in the fictional university of Stancester, the novel, Speak Its Name, explores Christianity, homosexuality and bisexuality in the context of student life and politics.

Of the book, Kathleen says: “There was a story that wasn't being told. I'd been reading a lot around themes of faith and LGBT identity, and I couldn't find anything where the two co-existed. It always seemed to be assumed that one would have to be sacrificed to the other. That didn't reflect my own experience, or that of many of my friends. So I ended up writing it myself.”

The judges praised Speak Its Name as: ‘An original, closely-observed, funny and often touching story with an unusual setting and a keen understanding of the interactions between members of small communities.’

It’s the first time a self-published book has been shortlisted for the award and Kathleen says it allows more freedom over her writing.

“There's something exhilarating about being able to write whatever I want, whatever I feel needs to be written, and knowing that I won't be turned away because the subject matter is deemed insufficiently commercial.” She says.

“Self-publishing has become a huge amount easier in the last decade or so. In the age of almost universal internet access and print-on-demand technology, I can sell books to people on the other side of the world as easily as I can to my next-door neighbour. What I don't have, of course, is the network of contacts that traditional publishers have, and the sudden boost of publicity that came with Speak Its Name's shortlisting for the Betty Trask Prize has been a very pleasant surprise.”

Kathleen has happy memories of her time at Exeter and says that her studies have helped her in her writing career:

“As an English Literature student, I learned how to take texts apart and see how they're made, to measure the importance of every word. That experience was invaluable when I came to put my own text together.

“And then my novel has a university setting. Stancester isn't Exeter, and all the characters are original, but I tried to convey a sense of expanding possibilities and of being able to explore one's personality to the full, and that's something that I associate very much with my time at Exeter.”

The Betty Trask Awards are given annually to the best first novelists under the age of 35. Betty Trask left a bequest to the Society of Authors in 1983 to celebrate young authors writing in a traditional or romantic style. This year a total of £25,000 in prize money will be distributed. Previous winners include Zadie Smith, Hari Kunzru and David Szalay.

The winner, to be announced at the Society of Authors’ Awards on 20 June, will receive £10,000, while the other shortlisted authors will each receive a Betty Trask Award worth £3,000. 

Speak Its Name can be purchased online.




Date: 30 May 2017

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